January 09, 2014
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Skin-lightening products contained high amounts of mercury

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Six percent of cosmetic skin-lightening products tested contained well above the FDA-approved limit of mercury, including one that was 45,000 times beyond FDA standards, according to recent study results.

Researchers purchased 549 skin-lightening products in stores or online in the United States, China, Taiwan, Thailand, Japan and Sri Lanka. The products, including 439 creams, were marketed or labeled “lightening, bleaching, brightening, whitening, spot removal, dark removal, antispot, fairness” and “fading” and were manufactured in 32 countries. A portable X-ray fluorescence spectrometer was used to screen each product for mercury content exceeding 200 ppm. The FDA limit for trace amounts of mercury in cosmetic products is 1 ppm.

Thirty-three products (6%) contained mercury above 1,000 ppm. All were creams tested and purchased in Thailand (29%), where one product had a mercury level of 45,622 ppm; China (8.7%); and the United States (3.3%). Of the mercury-containing products, 15 had levels in excess of 10,000 ppm. A slightly higher percentage of mercury-containing products were purchased at stores (6.1%) compared with online (5.8%).

“Clinicians should be cognizant of the frequent use of mercury in lightening creams, the availability of mercury-containing products to consumers in the United States, the use of lightening products with US communities, and the potential neurologic, renal and dermatologic sequelae,” the researchers concluded. “Patients with suspected mercury exposure should undergo further evaluation, including blood and urine mercury levels and a complete blood cell count to assess for renal function.”

Disclosure: Researchers Carsten R. Hamann, Dathan Hamann and Kylin Hamann are related to researcher Curtis P. Hamann, MD, owner of SmartPractice, a producer of contact allergy diagnostic testing materials.

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